The Coach (Part 1)

Posted: August 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

You know, I really have no idea how to introduce this post. Last year…if I had a penny in for every time I thought “”f*** this” I’d probably be able to afford a Staffy. Highs that I dare not even attempt to describe and lows I’d rather not, all in the vague name of “progress”, in one way or another.

It’s through this year that I learned, so very luckily, that coaching does not simply take and take until medals appear, but that it gives back in many ways. It is as rewarding as you are told. It’s hard. It’s so easy. It’s heart breaking. It is elating. It is cold. It is warm. It is all these things and more…all together, it is a very human experience and lessons are ripe for the learning for everyone involved. Dundee University Boat Club provided me with significant joy that I could not give enough credit to simply via a blog post. Indeed, I am in debt to the continued and unrelenting effort of the athletes there, their inspiration and dedication I will not soon forget.

The purpose of this post is to illustrate the aspects of coaching that I learned to be the most important in achieving the most basic coaching goal – improving your athletes’ performance.

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The Holistic Approach

If you are coaching at an amateur level, it’s unlikely that you have immediate (and funded) access to a nutritionist, psychologist, S&C specialist, etc. However, this shouldn’t mean that you write off these aspects of athletic performance. At the end of the day, in a sporting context, you are the first point of call for any athlete needing direction. Personally, I’ve found that this is where a baseline understanding of and interest in human physiology and the musculoskeletal system has been helpful – it didn’t feel like a chore to read through pages and pages of learning material because it was all interesting and, due to understanding the demands of the sport at hand, easy to identify what was relevant. With regards to S&C/Physiology, I recommend Strength and Conditioning: Biological Principles and Practical Applications. It’s a total gold mine and everything is referenced directly to scientific literature. The text also covers the basics of sports nutrition, as well as a detailed explanation of what different nutrients do with regards to athletic performance.

Regarding athlete care, I found that my own knowledge courtesy of an ongoing medical degree was useful from the point of view of having a holistic approach to treating injury, but the most useful source of information for preparing athletes for the demands of the sport as well as identifying the potential source of aches/pains/injury was Eric Cressey’s Assess and Correct. This has proven to be useful in identifying sources of knee, lower back and anterior shoulder pain in rowing athletes as well as my own aches and pains in weight lifting. I’ve hammered on about it before, but it really has been an extremely useful tool.

As for “psychology”, no one is expecting you to become a shrink, but it is important to understand how your athletes tick and what mental cues make them perform better…leading perfectly on to…

Managing Motivation

Nothing is more repulsive to me than the repetitive jibber jabber of gym instructors. “Come on guys!” “Woo!” “Let’s do it!” “Yaaaaay!”. Spare me. This is not motivating, it is the slow and painful death of a parakeet with polite Tourettes reincarnated as a 5ft 2” oestrogen-fused ball of limited primary school sport’s day success. Do you know what used to truly horrify, stun and confuse me? Some people find the above abomination motivational

This begs the question…why? I believe the answer lies in the individual. Throughout life, the experiences (both good and bad) I’ve had, the people I’ve met and my responses/losses/victories have shaped who I am today and thus what motivates me as an individual. In the traditional West of Scotland manner, I respond well to aggressive coaching, profanity and competing against the English – a result of my previous experiences with coaches, my enjoyment of dramatic flair and very tall, well fed English boys with woeful technique smashing my 16 year old lightweight times to smithereens…I’m not bitter, I’m just saying!  I should explain that by “aggressive” I mean stern, relentlessly honest and unafraid to go red in the face with encouragement. With the body of athletes I’ve been working with since September, I spent a significant amount of time finding out what motivated each unique individual. Without naming names, the main themes were fear, camaraderie, a desire to prove something and, thankfully, personal achievement. Of course, there are individuals who are motivated by the fact that they like to see the results of a finished piece of work – these are the easiest to coach as the motivation is seemingly always present, it’s just a case of having a pattern in place that allows for a “strap yourself in and get on with it” approach to training. Rowing, with particularly long ergometer pieces, allows for this.

If you want to harness the individual motivations of your athletes, you have to get into the habit of consistently questioning your athletes to create an impression of how they approach both sport and their daily lives. “How are you today?” “How was that piece for you?” “Do you understand?” “Does that make sense?” “What do you make of that?” “Do you think you can achieve that?” “What do you think you can achieve?”. In the end, you build their trust, you build an authority and they truly believe they can achieve whatever work you set out for them. If you are setting out work for an athlete that you don’t think they can achieve, you are playing the role of “Billy Bad Ass” – the lesser cousin of the “knowledgeable Bronson” inspired among us. I’ve found that by continuing down a line of questioning until you reach a “why?” that answers why they are exercising in the first place, you discover an athlete’s individual motivations. Taking note of this and using it to create motivational triggers can be very useful if not overused. Simply asking “why are you here today?” wasn’t as successful because most people haven’t really thought about it, whereas a discussion gives them time to think. Furthermore, they are more likely to give you a thoughtless stereotypical answer – quite useless.

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These paragraphs have been more lengthy than I had intended and I doubt anyone is interested in reading an essay, so I’ll divide this into 3 parts. Part 2 will be up early next week!

Go GB!

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